NEW YORK — American Jewish community leaders gathered Sunday in Manhattan to thank President Reuven Rivlin for his service on behalf of the State of Israel and world Jewry in a farewell ceremony at the front end of the president’s final trip to the US as head of state.
Executives of the Jewish Federations of North America, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Zionist Movement and the United Jewish Appeal highlighted Rivlin’s ability during his seven years as president to serve as a unifying figure, bringing Israelis and Jews of all backgrounds together.
“Through five elections in Israel and three administrations in the United States, through an extraordinary global pandemic, you have maintained the dignity of the office that was entrusted to you seven years ago,” said Conference of Presidents board chair Dianne Lob.
“You have navigated the difficult political decisions with a dancer’s grace, and you have served as president for all of Israel’s citizens, with both a receptive ear and a voice for world Jewry.”
Rivlin for his part said that “building trust and cooperation between all the tribes (of Israel) has been one of my goals as president,” a reference to a 2015 speech in which he said modern Israel is made up of four tribes — secular, traditional, ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Arab.
Rivlin on Sunday referred to Diaspora Jewry as the “fifth tribe” of Israel, telling the American Jewish community leaders that their “many years of support for the State of Israel… makes you an integral part of Israeli society.
Rivlin thanked the roughly 75 people the audience at the Moise Safra Center for their efforts in maintaining bipartisan support for Israel in Congress, three times repeating the word “bipartisan.”
Earlier Sunday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid while meeting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome acknowledged that “mistakes were made” under Israel’s previous government and said: “Israel’s bipartisan standing was hurt. We will fix those mistakes together.”
Lapid has argued that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu prioritized his relations with the Republican Party, angering Democrats in the process, and has pledged to repair those ties as foreign minister.
Rivlin also noted the uptick in antisemitism in the US against the backdrop of last month’s Gaza war, noting that US “President [Joe] Biden and his administration are committed to combatting this wrong hate, and I promise you that the State of Israel will always stand at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism in the US and the entire world.”
Rivlin along with the other speakers took the opportunity to express their sorrow over the last week’s building collapse in Surfside, Florida where several dozen Jews are among the over 150 people who remain unaccounted for.
Rivlin who will travel to Washington DC on Monday to meet with Biden, said that he would use the opportunity to present Israel’s oppostion to a US return to the Iran nuclear deal.
Acknowledging that while there may be disagreements between the sides, “we will manage them as friends always do.”
Rivlin highlighted the presence of Leah Goldin, who will be joining the Israeli delegation for meeting with senior US officials in Washington.
Goldin is the mother of fallen soldier Hadar Goldin, whose body is being held, along with that of fellow IDF soldier Oron Shaul, by the Hamas terror group in Gaza. Hamas also holds two Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.
Israel is now insisting that on the return of the four as a condition for post-war reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s Ambassador to the US and UN Gilad Erdan echoed that point in his speech at Sunday’s event, asserting that “all plans to rehabilitate Gaza must include bringing back our boys” to applause from the crowd.
Rivlin landed in New York on Sunday morning and will travel to Washington on Monday where he’ll meet with senior Congressional leadership on Capitol Hill in addition to Biden at the White House. He will return to New York and hold meetings at the UN on Tuesday with Secretary General Antonio Guterres along with several foreign ambassadors before flying back to Israel that evening.
Rivlin, 81, will be succeeded by Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog next month. Biden congratulated Herzog upon his election last month by the Knesset.